“Comrades, Rally Around Your Soviets!”: The Centenary of the October Revolution

Anony­mous, “Octo­ber” (1928).

Today marks the 100th anniver­sary of the Octo­ber Rev­o­lu­tion, and those of us who fight to end cap­i­tal­ism find our­selves at a unique cross­roads. On the one hand, amidst the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of cap­i­tal­ist class pow­er around the globe, we see a resur­gence of far-right and nation­al­ist move­ments that, if not whol­ly unprece­dent­ed, put to rest any fan­ta­sy of easy equiv­a­lence between immis­er­a­tion and left­ward rad­i­cal­iza­tion. On the oth­er hand, the anti-cap­i­tal­ist left is also expe­ri­enc­ing a reju­ve­na­tion. In the Unit­ed States, mem­ber­ship in social­ist orga­ni­za­tions has surged over the past year, and it seems that every week we read a new poll attest­ing to the renewed appeal of social­ism among today’s youth. Some of these new forces under­stand social­ism, either explic­it­ly or implic­it­ly, as a grad­ual reform of cap­i­tal­ism, rather than as the abo­li­tion of the state and cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions, and this ori­en­ta­tion frames many dis­cus­sions of left strat­e­gy today. The cen­te­nary of the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion thus offers us an oppor­tu­ni­ty to study once more the his­tor­i­cal con­ver­gence of fac­tors which pro­duced the over­turn­ing of Russ­ian soci­ety in 1917, as well as to revis­it the Bol­she­vik Par­ty as an exper­i­ment which pri­or­i­tized the work of orga­ni­za­tion, of artic­u­lat­ing het­ero­ge­neous social sub­jects into a dynam­ic uni­ty capa­ble of seiz­ing and prac­tic­ing pow­er.

If we con­ceive of com­mu­nism as emerg­ing through the social strug­gles of a com­plex and diverse work­ing class, one which strug­gles in and through forms of orga­ni­za­tion to insti­tute a deep-seat­ed, self-gov­ern­ing, class­less soci­ety, then the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion, the sovi­ets, and the Bol­she­vik Par­ty remain essen­tial ref­er­ence points. But, as many of the essays below make clear, we must nei­ther suc­cumb to the temp­ta­tion of nos­tal­gia nor read the Bol­she­vik project as an invari­ant mod­el for all occa­sions. The results of any rig­or­ous project of inquiry will, at a min­i­mum, illu­mi­nate the great chasms that sep­a­rate us from the expe­ri­ences of 1917. Our inter­ven­tions can only be based upon a con­tin­u­al­ly renewed strate­gic analy­sis of our own present con­junc­ture. And so our return to Lenin after 100 years must be a crit­i­cal one, and we must remain open to new forms of strug­gle rather than fetishize cer­tain orga­ni­za­tion­al forms over oth­ers.

Here read­ers will find a selec­tion of texts in sev­er­al clus­ters, some new and oth­ers pre­vi­ous­ly avail­able in View­point. First, we offer two new trans­la­tions of essays recent­ly penned by Anto­nio Negri on Lenin. Also new to View­point are two intro­duc­tions to the Bol­she­vik Alexan­dra Kollontai’s Women Work­ers Strug­gle for their Rights, one writ­ten by Kol­lon­tai her­self (1918), con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of that pam­phlet after the Rev­o­lu­tion, and anoth­er by Sheila Row­both­am (1971) upon its trans­la­tion into Eng­lish. The next two essays on Lenin and The State and Rev­o­lu­tion by View­point edi­tor Salar Mohan­desi were pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished in 2012. The sub­se­quent three essays by Pana­gi­o­tis Sotiris, Jodi Dean, and Immanuel Ness are reprint­ed from a round­table on rev­o­lu­tion­ary strat­e­gy in View­point’s fourth issue, The State (2014); our trans­la­tion of Daniel Bensaïd’s 1968 master’s the­sis, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in the same issue, is also pre­sent­ed below. From deep in our archives, Asad Haider and Mohandesi’s 2011 intro­duc­tion to trans­la­tions of the cor­re­spon­dence between Anton Pan­nekoek and Cor­nelius Cas­to­ri­adis tes­ti­fies to the range of respons­es to Lenin with­in the so-called “ultra-left.” And final­ly, we also include here Matthieu Renault’s 2015 arti­cle on Mir­said Sul­tan-Galiev, an under­stud­ied Bol­she­vik who the­o­rized a Mus­lim com­mu­nism which ran up against Russ­ian chau­vin­ism in the ear­ly USSR.

Lenin’s Slogans | Antonio Negri

What might “All Pow­er to the Sovi­ets” mean in the present moment? I sense that it means: to build a move­ment, to unite forces where we find them, to form coali­tions, elab­o­rate mate­r­i­al goals to orga­nize all those who work and are exploit­ed, to con­sti­tute pow­er, to artic­u­late a hege­mon­ic strat­e­gy.

The Lenin Question: Organization and Mass Struggle | Antonio Negri

If we want to call the “Lenin ques­tion” the prob­lem of orga­ni­za­tion opened in the 1970s and today new­ly again before us, we can cer­tain­ly do so, pro­vid­ed that it is under­stood that the watch­word of Lenin does not mean nos­tal­gia or orga­ni­za­tion­al fetishism, but is rather a new solu­tion for the prob­lems that he had posed and vic­to­ri­ous­ly resolved.

Women Workers Struggle For Their Rights: Introduction (1971) | Sheila Rowbotham

Kollontai’s life reflect­ed the polit­i­cal turns of the rev­o­lu­tion, just as her fame since her death has fluc­tu­at­ed. Our orga­ni­za­tion­al real­i­ty is not hers, yet her works con­tin­ue to pose key ques­tions for women’s lib­er­a­tion and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment.

Women Workers Struggle For Their Rights: In Place of a Foreword (1918) | Alexandra Kollontai

Only a rad­i­cal change in the whole exis­tence of the work­ing class woman, in the con­di­tions of her home and fam­i­ly life, as she acquires equal sta­tus with men in civ­il law will wipe out once and for all the bar­ri­er which to this day pre­vents the woman work­er let­ting her forces flow freely into the class strug­gle.

The Actuality of the Revolution: Reflections on Lenin’s State and Revolution | Salar Mohandesi

Lenin always looked to access­ing, artic­u­lat­ing, and advanc­ing the pro­le­tar­i­an view­point at the lev­el of the­o­ry. This meant close­ly read­ing the com­po­si­tion of the pro­le­tari­at in order to dis­cov­er the polit­i­cal project already implic­it in its strug­gles, using that inquiry to fash­ion a polit­i­cal pro­gram capa­ble of mak­ing that project explic­it, and then con­cretiz­ing that pro­gram in a way that would allow him to antic­i­pate the next moves in the strug­gle. This is the real mean­ing of prac­tic­ing the art of pol­i­tics: match­ing an his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic pro­gram to an his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic class. This is what we must relearn from Lenin today.

All Tomorrow’s Parties: A Reply to Critics | Salar Mohandesi

Though my arti­cle “The Actu­al­i­ty of the Rev­o­lu­tion” cen­tered on Lenin and 1917, it was real­ly about the present. I think this became clear­er as the debate on the arti­cle pro­gressed, encom­pass­ing ques­tions with­in the Occu­py move­ment. For this rea­son, I’ve decid­ed not to quib­ble over details, but rather to review the his­to­ry in a way that more clear­ly shows how this debate, and the role the Bol­she­viks played in 1917, speaks to our cur­rent his­tor­i­cal con­junc­ture. Since the press­ing ques­tion, the one that tied all these arti­cles togeth­er, was actu­al­ly the ques­tion of the par­ty, I will try to clar­i­fy and elab­o­rate my analy­sis of the func­tion of the par­ty form, respond­ing to the three cri­tiques of my orig­i­nal argu­ment.

Rethinking Political Power and Revolutionary Strategy Today | Panagiotis Sotiris

The ques­tion of polit­i­cal pow­er has returned to the fore­front of polit­i­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal dis­cus­sion. This is not a coin­ci­dence. The acute eco­nomic cri­sis, its seri­ous social con­se­quences, the open polit­i­cal cri­sis in cer­tain social for­ma­tions, and the very sight of the over­throw of gov­ern­ments and regimes under the force of polit­i­cal mobi­liza­tion – despite, in the case of the Arab Spring, the trag­ic end of such process­es – mean that such ques­tions are again urgent.

Commune, Party, State | Jodi Dean

As it forces the mat­ter of the polit­i­cal form of the peo­ple, the Paris Com­mune serves as a key ref­er­ence point in Marx­ist dis­cus­sions of the state. What form does the people’s self-gov­ern­ment take? Inso­far as the peo­ple pre­cede the state, analy­sis of the Com­mune event nec­es­sar­ily opens up to the people’s sub­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion and to the polit­i­cal process of which the peo­ple are the sub­ject. And inso­far as the peo­ple politi­cized are peo­ple divid­ed, a part of a con­sti­tu­tively open and incom­plete set, the place from which the peo­ple are under­stood is nec­es­sar­ily par­ti­san. The ques­tion of the par­ty pre­cedes the ques­tion of the state.

Lessons for Building a Democratic Workers’ State | Immanuel Ness

The fail­ure of social­ism in the ear­ly 20th cen­tury is a prod­uct of the inter­nal contradic­tions of bour­geois democ­racy, which per­mit­ted inde­pen­dent work­ing-class orga­ni­za­tions on con­di­tion that they did not pose a chal­lenge to the cap­i­tal­ist state. In this way, the most sig­nif­i­cant his­toric frac­ture on the Left, one which remains with us today, fol­lowed the eager embrace of lib­eral democ­racy by Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al reformist social­ists.

The Notion of the Revolutionary Crisis in Lenin (1968) | Daniel Bensaïd

In sev­eral places through­out his work, Lenin tries to define the notion of a “revolution­ary cri­sis,” espe­cially in Left-Wing Com­mu­nism: An Infan­tile Dis­or­der and The Col­lapse of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tional. How­ever, he out­lines a notion more than he estab­lishes a con­cept, as the descrip­tive cri­te­ria that he enu­mer­ates remain sub­jec­tive assess­ments.

Deviations, Part 1: The Castoriadis-Pannekoek Exchange | Asad Haider and Salar Mohandesi

Span­ning an entire gen­er­a­tion, a lin­guis­tic divide, and a geo­graph­i­cal shift, the epis­to­lary encounter between Anton Pan­nekoek and Cor­nelius Cas­to­ri­adis in many ways marks the inter­nal trans­for­ma­tion of the ultra-left. But the ultra-left, far from a his­tor­i­cal rel­ic, is mak­ing head­lines again.

The Idea of Muslim National Communism: On Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev | Matthieu Renault

With­in sub­al­tern, post­colo­nial, and decolo­nial stud­ies, there are two het­ero­ge­neous and com­pet­ing con­cep­tions of this provin­cial­iza­tion of Europe, whose entan­gle­ment remains a source of ambi­gu­i­ties. There is, on the one hand, a con­cep­tion that holds provin­cial­iza­tion to be syn­ony­mous with the par­tic­u­lar­iza­tion, and thus rel­a­tiviza­tion, of “Euro­cen­tric-Euro­pean thought,” and Marx­ist thought in par­tic­u­lar. There is, on the oth­er hand, an under­stand­ing of provin­cial­iza­tion as a stretch­ing that under­lines the need for an exten­sion and dis­place­ment of the bor­ders of the­o­ry beyond Europe, as a con­di­tion of pos­si­bil­i­ty of an authen­tic uni­ver­sal­iza­tion.

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